Excavating Happiness

The great promise of meditative mindfulness is that peace and tranquility already exist; that they are within you right now and in every prior and future now. At first, I met this claim with curious skepticism. If they are already here, why can’t I feel them? If I am so full of goodness and beauty, why do I often feel like crap? After hundreds of hours of contemplation, the answer appears to reside in a simple yet powerful truth: we are living in an artificial world under the illusion of connection in violation of natural truth resulting in chronic moral suffering. We know what is right, but we are living wrong. The good news is we are in complete control and, therefore, can change all of it. We can move from what the writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit calls moral injury to moral beauty.

First, we must recognize the problem. As many, like Harvard’s Steven Pinker argues, the data suggests things have never been better. Measurements of wealth and welfare nearly all support the argument that because of our rapidly expanding capabilities over the last few hundred years, the lives we lead are longer, healthier, and more productive than any lived by our ancestors. Common sense suggests we should, therefore, be happier. But, by many other measures we aren’t nearly as content as those in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries whose daily lives were much more difficult. In the Happiness Index that ranks countries around the world, none of the wealthiest countries ranks in the top ten. Number 1? Finland. The fundamental problem is that our pursuit of success—measured in traditional terms—has limited positive impact on our happiness and, in many respects, may even be detrimental.

As Solnit observes,

Look closely, and you can see that by measures other than goods and money, we are impoverished. Even the affluent live in a world where confidence in the future, and in the society and institutions around us, is fading—and where a sense of security, social connectedness, mental and physical health, and other measures of well-being are often dismal.

To address the problem, we must first realize that we have created this world. The incentives we have structured in our marketplace of success and the feel-good receptors we have allowed to define our egos are born from the same psychic infrastructure that favors exploitation over altruism, isolation over connection, and conflict over cooperation. Of course, inasmuch as we created this world, we can un-create it, too. In other words, as I often remind my children, the second rule of life applies: it is up to us. (The first rule is: shit happens.)

Exploitation rose naturally from the reality of scarcity. Survival meant realizing that there were only so many pieces of pie to go around. Under the condition of scarcity, us vs. them, and zero-sum game theory were prevalent and legitimate constructs. But things changed in the late 20th century. This is where we must heed Pinker’s argument of greater welfare. The fundamental shift that occurred was from scarcity to abundance. The culmination of the productivity of the industrial era and the transition from an analog world to a digital world meant that win-lose could become win-win.

This is when we should have shifted our thinking from exploitation to altruism, but we didn’t. We should have transitioned from coercive power to referential power where we accumulate power by the extent to which we serve the interests of others. If we had, we would all be better off and be able to meet the challenges of the day, like poverty, the pandemic, and climate change. Instead, we stayed the course allowing both power and wealth to intensify in their concentration within a small percentage of the population. The shame belongs not on the heads of the have-nots (as many politicians would assert), it belongs on the heads of the haves. And, please note: the exploitation I speak of is not confined (as some may quickly judge) to capitalism. There is just as much if not more exploitation in socialist and authoritarian regimes. If anything, capitalist democracies hurdled scarcity first making way for the benefits of abundance. Regardless, none of us were wise enough to fully understand the implications of this shift. In that moment, we missed an enormous opportunity to reshape our world.

We have also become hostage to our preference for isolation. America is a country that has always celebrated independence. After all, it is called the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July is known as Independence Day for good reason. Our most fundamental birthright is the right to self-determination. Unity has always been subverted by our preference for independence—for separation from each other—for isolation. In fact, it is only under dire circumstances that we ever come together, usually when attacked by a foreign actor, as in 9/11. Most recently, even a deadly pandemic that put everyone’s life at risk regardless of social, political, or economic standing, became a divisive event that produced profound disunity. We Americans much prefer, “you be you and I’ll be me” and, moreover, leave me the hell alone. This is the quintessential American.

Our penchant for independence and individualism served us well until it didn’t. A curious and unfortunate coincidence occurred at the time of our shift from scarcity to abundance. As I argued in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, in the late twentieth century, in particular after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “individualism, or the notion that Americans were possessed of free will and took responsibility for its expression thereof, was replaced by narcissism.” Our hyper-individualism turned us into churlish prigs. So full of triumphalism, we even stopped taking pictures of others and landscapes in favor of our own headshots to celebrate our self-perceived magnificence. Selfies became exhibit number one of our many narcissisms. This is where socialist democracies did indeed have an advantage over capitalist democracies (see quasi-socialist #1 Finland, above).

However, our isolationist tendencies expressed as hyper-individualism has proven most damaging in our separation from the natural world. As I have argued before, perceiving ourselves as separate from nature may prove to be the proximate cause of the collapse of Homo Sapiens. One of the by-products of the industrial age is that through the -ification and -ization of everything, humans have placed systems of subjugation between themselves and nature in a perverted master-slave relationship. Make no mistake, this relationship, if pursued to its ends will result in the end of humanity. It is, as many prophets, gurus, sages, and gods have claimed over the millennia, a noble truth that nature rewards harmony and punishes dissonance. If humans remain dissonant, we will (to use Charles Darwin’s phrase) be “selected against.”

Another teaching of meditative mindfulness is the toxicity of conflict. Virtually all spiritual teachers, regardless of tradition or heritage agree that things like desire and attendant conflict are the root of all suffering. Humanity has been burdened by conflict since inception. This, too, is partially a product of scarcity, yet the greatest civilizations would have never become great without the implementation of cooperation. From the hunter-gatherers to the industrial age, specialization and the division of labor has proven far superior to going it alone. Of this, both Adam Smith and Karl Marx agree. Among other things, this practice resides at the core of the strength of capitalism which, notwithstanding its propensity to concentrate power and wealth, is undoubtedly the most efficient system to organize and deploy capital and labor for the production of wealth. Capitalism excels at production. Where it falls short is distribution, which threatens other important principles including the basic norms of democracies.

Again, somewhat ironically, our shift from scarcity to abundance was accompanied not just by the ascendence of narcissism, but also by the rise of hubris. We doubled down on conflict and competition right when we should have shifted to higher modes of cooperation. And, not just by and between nations, but by and between races, political parties, religious traditions, and even gender. Our preference for exploitation, isolation, and conflict is tearing us apart both internally and externally; it is why we often feel like crap. Moral suffering has become an endemic condition in America and much of the world even while we live in the first era of abundance in the history of humankind. How stupid is that?

To move from the condition of suffering to happiness—from Solnit’s contemplation of moral injury to moral beauty—is, therefore, within our grasp. Win-win and plus-sum game theory must become prominent modalities. Coercion must give way to altruism. We must choose harmony over dissonance between ourselves and with nature. Only then can we achieve both internal and external consonance. Only then will we switch to right from wrong. Only then can the peace and tranquility that has been buried beneath our egos be excavated to assure both our happiness and our survival.

The first rule of life still applies: shit happens. But the second rule also holds: the rest of everything else is up to us.

Our Imagination Blindspot

Americans enjoy a robust and durable heritage of ambitious optimism; of believing in ourselves as leaders in invention, innovation, and moral virtue. From John Winthrop’s declaration to his pilgrims in the early seventeenth century at the Massachusetts Bay Colony that “we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us” to Barack Obama’s campaign mantra, “Yes, we can!”, Americans believe they have both the responsibility and the capacity to change the world. We are the chosen people in the chosen land. A designation supported by the many iterations of American Christian sects that rose to prominence throughout the nineteenth century. In 1835, the Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher, in his sermon A Plea for the West was unabashed in his view of American magnificence when he said,

There is not a nation upon this earth which, in fifty years, can by all possible reformation place itself in circumstances so favorable as our own for the free, unembarrassed applications of physical effort and pecuniary and moral power to evangelize the world.

His forecast proved mostly true. By the late nineteenth century, after America survived its own Civil War, it was well positioned to emerge as a power on the world stage; helped mightily, I might add, by an enormous influx of immigrants who brought both strength and diversity to a melting pot of humanity.

However, the phrase that probably best captures this notion of American exceptionalism, which was a new imagining of American identity at the time was put forward in 1845 by the writer John O’Sullivan. He gave us the identifier “manifest destiny” to describe and to justify the annexation of Texas and subsequently America’s claim to Oregon over similar claims by the British as “our manifest destiny to overspread the whole of the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” In his statement, he suggests a divinely bestowed entitlement to proliferate and thereby spread our blessed specialness. This is when American exceptionalism first turned away from its exemplar character as setting the example for others to follow (as in Winthrop’s “the eyes of all are upon us”) to the missionary version of American exceptionalism that reached its pinnacle during the administration of George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who sought to remake the world in the image of the United States.

For the most part, this ambitious optimism and high self-regard has served America well. At the foundation of this fundamental American character lies our penchant for unbridled imagination. There are mountains of evidence to argue America is the most inventive and innovative culture in the last several hundred years. We are upside addicts. Our glass remains stubbornly half-full. After all, would humans be flying without us? Travelling through space? Able to effectively vaccinate millions against horrible pandemics? Put ten thousand-plus songs in your pocket? Successfully classify rap as music? Where would we be without Levi’s jeans? Our culture—now heritage—is to turn the impossible into the possible. It is no accident that our greatest rival, China, that has more than three times our population of human beings can do little more than steal our inventions and innovations rather than tapping into their obviously repressed imaginations. Freedom of the mind has its benefits.

Our great imaginary vision has, however, a huge blindspot. We routinely and systematically underestimate downside risk. Our rose-colored glasses make us vulnerable to evil, cruelty, and catastrophic outcomes. We only see white swans while black ones haunt us. In the last two decades this has cost us dearly. We only saw upside in the digitization of everything. Higher productivity; curing the once incurable; an expansion of wealth that would certainly eradicate poverty once and for all. And, while elements of each of these promises did indeed come to pass, we were also left with bigger—not smaller—gaps in equality and justice. A healthcare system more inaccessible and tragically inefficient than ever in the contemporary era. Thousands of deaths of despair as depression has become an entrenched epidemic. Social media that shames, blames, and disparages us rather than its stated intention to connect us and inspire us. Our psyche has flipped in two decades from victors to victims.

Today, unprecedented, unbelievable, and unimaginable have become dominant adjectives in our discourse. Believing the office of the presidency would modify Trump’s character and behaviors is one obvious example of our failure of imagination. His actions to affect a coup after the election in 2020 amplified these failures further. We knew—scientifically—that Covid-19 would be the disaster it became. But we ignored the science. Surely, Putin wouldn’t be stupid enough to invade Ukraine and take on the entire western alliance of democracies! And, most recently, there is no way China’s Xi can broker rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but he did. (Among other things, is now the time to ignore Israel’s Netanyahu currying favor with Putin?)

And now, on our doorstep, is the exponential acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI) that, like the digitization of everything, promises to revolutionize our world for the better. Maybe it will. It most certainly will improve some things. We arguably controlled the digitization of everything that is, today at best, a mixed bag of blessings and curses. We will have much less control over AI. We must immediately begin the necessary thought experiments and imaginings of downside risk to protect ourselves from our ambitious optimism. It served us very well in our first two hundred twenty-five years of history. We don’t need to throw it away, but we had better turn the lens around to imagine what else lurks beyond the borders of our divinely bestowed specialness.

The English poet, John Keats, wrote, “I am certain of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination.” As we consider the future of AI, we would be well served to heed all the truths of imagination for better, or worse. The future of not just America, but of humanity itself may well be at stake.

In Praise of Innocent Ignorance

I know, you know, we all know,

so smart and yet we struggle.

Struggle to know why we struggle so;

struggle much more than we know.


Children find joy in not knowing,

they live in a world full of wonder.

While adults claim holy omniscience

 and then wonder where joy is hiding.


The pursuit of knowledge is noble,

 to bring the world’s issues to heel.

But there are times of knotty tangles

when old knowns are insufficient.


Perhaps we should set our minds aside

and listen to other voices to guide us.

Below the neck; heart and gut?

To be smarter, somehow, someway.


Ignorance is bliss, or so they say;

 is not knowing the key to happiness?

Daring to know presumed unknowns

clears the path to enlightenment.


“I don’t know” is where humility thrives.

“I don’t know” establishes credibility.

“I don’t know” trumps the know-it-all.

“I don’t know” creates new possibilities.


We are taught to answer every question,

though we should be taught to ask more questions.

It’s time to let go of traditional thinking,

and be guided by truth and hope and courage.


Curious and brave, willing to be wrong,

all so we can be right again someday.

To cast our struggles into the wind

carried away by a gust of innovation.


The meek shall not inherit the earth,

 it is the curious to whom it belongs.

They carry the light of innocent ignorance

to wage the new prospects of humanity.


Note to my well-wishers: Tomorrow, I have surgery scheduled at St. Mary’s in Grand Junction, Colorado to rid myself of cancer; hopefully in one step and back home on Friday. It may be a bit before I return to this post as I’ve been told to expect to be knocked down for a while. We shall see. In the meantime, be kind to yourselves and others. Kindness costs nothing.

By |2023-03-12T17:45:41+00:00February 22nd, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

The Fourth Founding of America: a Plea to Gen Z

Biden’s State of the Union address this year was like watching a bad adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play, CATS. Yes, Joe did an exceptional job of playing cat-herder-in-chief in the pit of feral felines who seemed confused throughout the performance as to whether they should fawn, preen, or claw in response to his many entreaties. Marjorie Taylor Greene purred in her white Persian kittycat costume, but cuddly she was not. She hissed and pounced and clawed at every opportunity. As a cast, the mostly old tired politicians—both toms and queens—appeared either bloated by catnip or suffering from frequent regurgitation of hairballs, or both. Yes, as most pundits concur, Biden won, even while I struggle to understand exactly what he won. Savior of democracy (and Democrats) or modern-day Saint Sebastian, only time will tell. The entire litter box last Tuesday evening constituted exhibit #1 in making the case for what America needs most.

America needs a reboot.

Unsettled is an understated term to describe the way most Americans feel after years of Trumpian dystopic vandalism and a global pandemic that compromised any and every anchor of continuity and security we have enjoyed since we emerged from the Great Depression and World War II. So much damage has been done, the toll of which we may not know for years. After the Great Depression and World War II, we declared victory and moved on swaddled in the presumption of prowess; the confidence of the victorious. I am unsure we even know what victory looks like, today.

Americans are just plain worn out. We are tired of being afraid and angry. We are tired of being lied to. We are tired of being treated as if we are stupid. We are tired of watching the slow but certain normalization of inequity and injustice. We are tired of enduring the abuse of our environment sanctioned by people who know better, but whose craven desire for power and money remains unbridled. Perhaps most of all, we are tired of having the promise of America established at our first founding—the right of self-determination—be trampled on by all three branches of our federal government, but especially and most egregiously by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The first thing we must accept is that the cast of characters we call our national leaders—the pit of feral felines we were forced to watch this week—will never affect the reboot we need. The truth is both Republicans and Democrats have it half right. The Republicans want to tear our government down, while the Democrats want to make it work—bigger and better. The solution lies in the middle: a government repurposed and reimagined to serve Americans again and regain our footing on the world stage. But neither side can find a way to do business with the other. Sadly, many were elected with the mandate to assure nothing gets done. At best, they may be forced into compliance if we are successful at asserting our will as the American people, which is exactly what we must do.

Fortunately, the change that is required does not include a dramatic upheaval that will create more chaos and disruption in our lives. What is required is a thoughtful and deliberate dismantling and reconstruction of our norms and institutions instigated from the ground up. We must begin by recognizing we have, to echo the words of Thomas Paine, the power to begin America again. To gracefully and conscientiously affect a fourth founding of America.

Yes, we have re-founded America before. We do so after every period of crisis. The first founding that we all acknowledge followed the American Revolutionary War. The second founding followed the Civil War, and the third founding followed the Great Depression and World War II. In each of these periods we re-booted America. We stripped the house of America back down to its foundation and structural bones, and we re-designed then rebuilt it to meet the needs of the next several decades. In fact, we do this about every eighty years. Like the second and third founding, the fourth founding will not be nearly as dramatic as the first, nor will it become the fodder for fable and folklore. And, it will most definitely not be led by people of my age or older. The people who should lead this fourth founding are known as Gen Z, and perhaps the few millennials who remain unaffected by entitled dispositions and who retain a healthy sense of agency and responsibility.

The process is fairly simple: assume nothing and question everything. Most importantly, come forward with constructive recommendations for the America you want to design, build, and pass on to your own children. Start locally with town councils and school boards, and move up the ladder from there. Ignore for the moment the noise from Washington D.C. They are well on their way to establishing their own irrelevance. Tame that monster by starving it of attention. They barely have more substance than the air inside a Chinese spy balloon. At any and every opportunity, act to affect the return of authority and financial resources to the local level. To be fair, over the last seventy-five years we have pushed way too much authority and responsibility up to our federal government, it is time to pull much of it back down to the state and local level. We should also carefully consider what public goods should return to the realm of private enterprise. Remember, the power resides in the people from which financial resources also emanate.

Let me be clear to our young adults: you are those people; you have the power!

This is a once-every-eighty-years opportunity. Pursue it with a sense of calm determination. There is no reason to yell or scream like a backbench congresskitty. You don’t even need to march, or be tear-gassed, or be locked up. And, no, TikTok performative activism doesn’t count. You must show up, sign up, and step up. You must act. At neighborhood and town or county meetings. Later, state caucuses. Eventually, as congresspersons, senators, judges, justices, and presidents. Your future is in your hands, which is an unusual and huge opportunity. Few generations get this opportunity. Don’t squander it. Assert yourself. Seize the day. Take control of your destiny.

America’s fourth founding is up to you.

By |2023-02-22T16:35:00+00:00February 12th, 2023|American Identity, General, Recent|0 Comments

Home is in You

I grew up in Seattle where gray is considered a primary color. In the Pacific Northwest, gray engulfs and obscures, but paradoxically also defines. It is both austere and emotional. It marks time without leaving a mark. It both inhibits and inspires. As a kid, I recall encountering sepia for the first time, which felt like sensory overload; like when the carnival came to town. The burst of color that finally arrived each mid-summer was as if Timothy Leary had traveled through on Jack Kerouac’s bus and dropped a gallon of LSD into our drinking water. But, by late September, our old friend gray would return to remind us we were as boring, and yet intriguing, as it was.

A life of low-and-slow stimulation that brings a sense of calm deliverance in the latter stages of life is equally disturbing in our younger years when energy and libido make you dance and spin like a feral cat with its tail on fire. In my senior year of high school, it rained 72 days straight. Trust me, I counted. When my acceptance came from a college in Southern California, I felt like an astronaut waiting on an Apollo launchpad. The allure was that “It never rains in Southern California,” sung by the one-hit wonder, Albert Hammond, (released in 1972). It became the theme song for every kid who lived north of Eugene, Oregon. After a year, I retreated from SoCal once I experienced their gray—from forest fires on Mt. Baldy—that not only blocked the sun, it rained ash! This was my first lesson in the realization that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

Still, I moved. Business took me from Seattle to Dallas, then Washington D.C., back to Dallas, and finally (post-business) my escape in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where every border crossing bears the sign, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” (That color thing draws me in like a magnet.) The beauty of where I live today is nothing short of magnificent. I have lived in the left, right, and center of America and each place has its appeal—its own special beauty. I remember in 1982, when I first arrived in Dallas and I played flag football on Sunday in late October when it was 75 degrees and sunny. I didn’t even know it was possible to sweat in October. Then, the awe of power in Washington D.C. in the late Reagan/early Bush 41 years. Pillars of stone guarding halls of grandeur. A musk-like intoxicant of power that (I eventually learned) turns well-intentioned “representatives of the people” into common street walkers strutting in stiletto heels on K Street lusting for lobbyists’ dollars. (If you are Kevin McCarthy, add a Velcro-fastened French maid’s outfit; easy on, easy off.)

My memories are filled with the taste of things. A bowl of steaming clam chowder from Pike Place Market in Seattle; a flaming platter of fajita meat in Dallas; fresh-pressed cider on a crisp fall day in Northern Virginia; and a perfectly broiled rack of lamb in Colorado. I should add the overwhelming scent of fresh-cut alfalfa I found so comforting in my youth during summers in South Dakota working on my maternal homeland. I didn’t eat it, but I sure understood why the cattle gobbled it.

Yes, I have (mostly) enjoyed my life. To be clear, pain too, but that just acts to make the joy more enjoyable. Through my travels, my victories, and my tribulations, I have also come to understand what home is, or rather, where it is. Home is where you are, wherever you may be. In the modern era, we must learn to find solace in this concept. The Hallmark channel may beg to differ as it makes its living on the romanticized version of home as a permanent place where the paint never peels and there is always an apple pie in the oven. But if we are to find peace before our travels end, we must realize home is not a zip code, it is at the core of our being.

Considering home as inside of you, wherever you may be, is an acquired mindset. It replaces an attachment to place with the attachment to self; more broadly, the whole self: psyche and soul. The old saying, “Home is where the heart is” comes close, but my notion of home is deeper and broader. Moreover, it is transportable inasmuch as it travels with you. It is a place of comfort and stability; it is safe.

In several essays over the last year, I have written about the work I have done in seeking, maintaining, and securing a sense of “sweet peace” and being “whole as one.” This is my concept of home: not residing at home, rather feeling at home. Home as a state of being is supported by the following five practices.

  1. Be in the present at all times. There is nothing you can do about the past or the future; the only thing you can affect is the now; the only thing you can ever even experience is the now. Apply yourself accordingly.
  2. Conquer your monkey mind. Left to its own devices, our minds spin out of control several times each day. Rumination—the spiral staircase that descends into the abyss of despair—can be stopped by first being aware of what the mind is doing and, second, by interrupting the process allowing those instigating thoughts to pass by before rumination takes hold. And, if you develop the discipline to hit the pause button, those fatalistic thoughts will pass without further effect. The next trick is reversing the spiral into one of an ascension toward virtue (a topic for another day).
  3. Remain open, aware, and compassionate. Contemplate the world as a three hundred-sixty-degree visual field. Allow everything to rise and fall, come and go, with a sense of calm admiration and explicitly without a sense of judgment. In this mindset, the world is quite amazing.
  4. Live conflict-free, fear-free, and anger-free. Stay above the fray; rise above the rabble. Let others get mired in the mud. Keep your boots clean. Remember, the only true victory is tranquility.
  5. Honor your values. Maintain an uncompromising commitment to your fundamental beliefs that undergird your moral high ground. Your integrity and your virtue are the foundation of your home.

There is no escaping the fact that you have to live with yourself every moment of your life. You might as well make that relationship the strongest one that you have. To be whole as one. Make you your home. Once it is a place of comfort and safety, wherever you are you will be fine. Protect it accordingly. It is your fort. It is your port in the storm. Moreover, it is your special gift to the world. Treat it as the precious thing that it is, with no apologies.

Those of you in committed relationships might ask, but what about being whole as a couple? The prerequisite to this is, of course, that you each first be whole as one. If you aren’t, whole as two will never happen in an enduring manner. One or both of you will suffer and the relationship will likely fail. Balance and symbiosis are foundational virtues in companionship.

As a final sharing today, I offer a poem that is framed by a childhood memory and my current mindset. It was an interesting exercise made so by the requirement that one life be contained in one page. It may be a worthwhile exercise for you as well. Obviously, there are several thousand pages missing from this rendering of my life, but I found this bookend approach quite illuminating for me. A personal thought experiment. Perhaps you will, too.


That Boy Grown Gray

In my youth, I roamed.

The sea, then woods, mountains, the prairie

and back again.


My eyes transfixed on the telephone wires,

undulating from pole to pole,

as the Empire Builder sped eastward

through tunnels burrowed in granite.


A clackity-click, then a clickity-clack;

my train rumbled on

from Seattle, to White Fish, to Fargo.


It mattered who I was, mostly just to me.

Few thought I was worth an obligation,

fewer yet a worthy dependency.


Ah, freedom.


Youth; penniless and pure.

Me just for me.

No one’s prospect, no one’s cure.


And now here I am, that boy grown gray.

Just one shadow to cast,

just one meal to make.

I carry my own fire again.


Slower in both breath and stride,

I pause more than hurry.

No cards held; none to be played.

Quiet mind, I now see with my soul.


Embraced by the wisdom of eternity.


Note to my politically-stressed readers: I realize I have been quiet about the mess in Washington D.C. recently, but I am not ignoring it, nor you. The fact is that the highest order issues facing Americans today are not political, they are mental health issues. Moreover, I view our current political situation as one of more entertainment than concern. Yes, much must be rectified in all three branches of our federal government. But for the moment, the proverbial car-chasing dog—the MAGA nutjobs in Congress—have caught the bumper of the car, and I expect they will soon find themselves pinned beneath the wheel of reason. (With apologies to car-chasing dogs who arguably have higher character than people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.) This detonation of idiocy must be allowed to fully discharge before any real progress can be made. We are on our way to a clumsy transition from the period of crisis that began in 2003 to the next period of objectivism, where reason prevails once again. So, breathe. And, maybe even snicker with me. Once we transition, I am certain George Santos will take full credit. Perhaps we can bestow a trophy upon him to go on the shelf next to his MVP volleyball award from Baruch College.

Note to my well-wishers: Today, I head to Houston to spend some time at MD Anderson Cancer Center to see if there is any better way to rid myself of these nasty adenocarcinoma cells. This consultation was facilitated by one of my readers; a good friend and better person than I will ever be. So, before they cut me up in Colorado, I will see what else might be possible. Thus far, I have filled out numerous pre-consultation questionnaires, none of which asked me, “What can we do for you?”, but maybe they are saving that question for the consultation. (If they did, they would be the first on this unwelcome and disturbingly empathy-free journey through our healthcare system.) If anyone knows of a better treatment, they should know at MD Anderson. Either way, I shall prevail. After all, I am home.

By |2023-02-12T14:23:40+00:00January 29th, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Kintsugi: the Beauty of Scars

In my youth, scars were marks of toughness meant to warn others you were someone to leave alone; that you could both take and deliver pain. Physical wounds that produce such visible scars were worn like ribbons on a warrior’s chest, or like notches on a belt: a tally of toughness.

As we reach adulthood, we soon learn that wounds and the scars that follow come in different forms other than those that leave ragged blemishes. Internal wounds that traumatize emotionally and psychologically heal slowly—if ever—and offer no visual evidence of their presence. Rather, they fester in our hearts and minds and contribute to behaviors that neither we, nor those who believe they know us, can explain. Treatment to heal such wounds is often futile; limited to managing symptoms of an unknown cause that is buried by the past and has often morphed over time into a multi-headed monster that may or may not be based in any semblance of reality. They become the demons that haunt us with neither warning, nor apparent justification.

As we age, we learn to cope with our wounds whether they are healed over with a scar, fly around in our psyche like bats in our mental belfry, or leave our hearts feeling heavy and hollow. Coping behaviors come in many forms from appeasement to suppression to concealment. We do the best we can to present ourselves as reasonable and sane even when we know we are fighting against forces we don’t recognize, let alone understand. In extreme cases, we become unrecognizable to ourselves and appear bizarre, or even dangerous, to others. Those who peddle cures call us depressed, neurotic, or psychotic, when what we are is, simply, human.

The key to dealing with all of these challenges is a deep and compassionate self-interrogation that peels all the layers of our life back to reveal the essence of who we are to produce a level of clarity that casts aside old deceptions in favor of restorative self-awareness. Moreover, to honor and even celebrate our scars like the gold lines in a Kintsugi restoration. Converting pain into beauty. Self-awareness when expressed in an open and honest manner and followed by the celebration of our particular peculiarities makes us (often for the first time in our lives) whole. Once we are whole, once the wounds are exposed and closed by awareness and compassion, our demons are vanquished and sweet peace prevails. A sense of entrenched calm presides over our lives like the elder viewing the world from a park bench whose only expression is an occasional sagacious grin.

My own journey of Kintsugi restoration is expressed in the following poem.

Whole as One

Expectations and obligations

Hang like ornaments on a tree

Too many is too much

Burdened limbs falter, wilting

As contrived joy plunges

Into a wallow of discontent


Criticism and displeasure

Seldom fair but always there

Like a midwinter inversion

Low layers of gray swirling

A biting bone chill of wind

To deaden what spirit remains


The yoke of yesterday yearns

Masquerading as comfort

Advocating for stasis

Blocking the light of liberation

A relentless weight of fealty

As if it knows what is right


Days turn and stumble

Unremarkable in sameness

Is this all there is as the

choir sings its benediction?

Surely there’s another chapter

Without a beast of burden


Finding a new me for me

Shedding decades of duty

Considerations are few and simple

To clear a path to tranquility

Secure as One to meet the world

In it, but not of it any longer


Behind the eye of wisdom

Beyond the grabbers and takers

Shaping wholeness as One

In the slipstream of society

Stealth toward a frictionless future

Held in the hands of grace

We live in confusing and perilous times. What was once so is no longer. The reliable has become unreliable. At times, the world we face is beyond disorienting; it appears as a cauldron of existential threats. It is therefore paramount that we take care of ourselves and each other. Doing so begins with building our inner citadel—a reserve of fortitude that renders our core being unassailable.

Late in his life, the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir was crippled by painful arthritis in his hands, and yet summoned the strength to hold his brush. His friend and fellow artist, Henri Matisse, asked “Why do you paint when it hurts you so much?” “The pain passes,” replied Renoir, “but the beauty remains.” Strength can be found in self-revelation. Renoir knew who he was. It was through his pain that his greatest works came to be. It was through his pain that the strength of beauty was realized. The key to sweet peace is living your life while honoring your personal history not as what makes you vulnerable and weak, rather by what makes you unique, strong, and yes, beautiful.

Like a Kintsugi bowl, scars and all.

By |2023-01-29T13:50:57+00:00January 15th, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Getting Through

The last three years have been a gut-wrenching test of our personal and collective character as a people and nation. Although we failed in many tests of our character, we are still here. The hard truth is only we, acting on inspiration with determination, can make the next three years better than the last. As the maxim suggests: “the only way out is through.” It is time to get through. How we do that begins with visualizing then actualizing change based in what I call moments, or glimpses, or glimmers of inspiration.

We still have an opportunity to set a new course; to learn from our failures and to both restore and revitalize the values that undergird our character. 2023 can be the year we turn the corner—together—to recommit to the truth, to each other, to our planet, and to assert a new spirit of creativity and innovation that defines a new American identity. One that restores the American Dream and reestablishes America as an exemplar of human dignity and grace across the world. What I call the enlightened version of American exceptionalism.

Over the holidays, I spent a great deal of time in fairly intense contemplation and reflection. Cancer will do that to you. Thankfully, my cancer is just below stage 4 at stage 3C. Operable, albeit complicated, and my chance of survival is quite good. The balance of the consequences are just a matter of the mind and body cooperating in creative adaptation, and doing the work to fully rehabilitate. Fortunately, I have had many experiences with difficult physical rehabilitations, so I know I can do that—and win. And, I have the shoulders of friends and family to stand on.

In the face of these uncertainties, I found sanity and solace in imagining moments/glimpses/glimmers of comfort when my world was full of darkness and peril. There have been days when this practice is the only way I made it to the next day. My hope is that we might collectively engage in a similar practice to right the ship of America with our own individual and collective practice of what amounts to visualizing then actualizing the few things we need to do to save our future. We need to learn how to hug hope.

Over the past year, I have (fortuitously as it turns out) developed the skill of dropping into a meditative state where simple breathing settles me into a state of awareness free of my meddling mind. That’s when summoning moments of comfort set my troubled psyche at ease. Moments of comfort like inhaling the aroma of a fresh, French press, dark roast coffee as the sun breaks the horizon. The wafting vanilla-almond scented candle next to a crackling fire of pinion and cedar as nightfall envelops my home. A shimmering rainbow connecting the valley with the mountains in the ritual of a soft summer rain. A perfect piece of music that inspires a joyful sense of awe and inspiration. The brush strokes of an artist that stop you cold leaving you floating between reality and imagination. The prattle of chatter up and down the bar—both inane and profoundly poetic—while sipping a Guinness in Ireland. A poem that leaves room for you to make it your own. And, of course, reading, thinking, writing, reflecting, re-writing, then writing some more; and, finally, sharing as I do here.

As it is with all of us, our personal lives mirror the disposition of the places in which we live. Place has an enormous impact on our lives; more than we are willing to admit. Our personal agency certainly matters as a powerful agent of change, but the context of community allows and disallows many of our preferences. That said, there are a just a few things that all Americans could focus on that transcend the peculiarities of place. Across America today, there are three imperatives as we collectively face the future: a recommitment to truth and the rule of law, the reunification of ourselves by and between each other and nature, and the courage to foster, embrace, and support the application of creative intelligence to address our greatest challenges. In my view, these are the three most pressing objectives that, if realized, will affect many primary, secondary, and tertiary issues. They will deliver us to a future we can be proud to leave to our children and grandchildren.

One need look no further than Donald Trump if you want to find evidence of what one person can do for better, or in his case, for ill. He nearly single-handedly destroyed our commitment to the truth and the rule of law, as well as standards defined by norms. The soon-to-be sworn-in congressman George Santos of New York is the exclamation point of this Trump effect. He is Trump’s bizarre avatar of deceit. A life and identity completely crafted from falsehood. What a mess that man is. A Shakespearean tragedy not even William could have conjured.

But let’s be clear and honest with ourselves as we move forward: every one of us shares culpability in the abdication of our commitment to truth and the rules and norms that make our society a civilized society. Even in our silence we are culpable. We let this happen. It is up to all of us to fix it. No more looking the other way or engaging in performative outrage on social media. None of that excuses us. None of that works. No matter how uncomfortable or even cruel the truth may be, we must face it with courage and resolve. And, yes, consequences for Trump and others are important to levy. Not to affect their future behaviors; I highly doubt people like Trump are capable of rehabilitation. Rather, to restore the rule of law to its rightful perch on the throne of integrity. Visualize truth as our path to restoring the soul of America.

Next, we need to set aside our petty grievances and acknowledge our common challenges and objectives. Separately, we are all trying to do the same thing: make our lives work in the context of our particular fears and ambitions. Collectively, we will all find our success more easily and more quickly if we honor our differences while embracing that which we share. Yes, we look different, speak with different accents, pray to different gods, and find love in different ways. But we are all Americans. In fact, that is what America is and always has been. That is what really makes America great—what made America the greatest nation-state in the modern world. We must close the gap between us. It is dangerous and un-American to engage further in the fear mongering and divisiveness that has become so popular on both ends of our political spectrum. In the last few years, we have become our own worst enemies. How stupid we were. This must stop, immediately. E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—must, once again, become an actualized vision.

In a new spirit of unity, we must also reimagine ourselves as the animals that we are. To be sure, human, and indeed predominant in this world. But also, highly interdependent by and between all the other species of plants and animals with whom we share the planet. The ecosystem we inhabit is collapsing, and it is because of us. Spare me your fantasies of alternative explanations to the reality of climate change. If you promote these, you are—plainly and frankly—dangerously full of shit. We may be the last victims, but if we remain on our current path of seeing ourselves as separate from and protected from the eventualities of the consumption of fossil fuels, we are no longer homo sapiens, we are homo stupidus. We deserve to perish. My hope is that if we learn to regard ourselves as a part of nature, rather than separate from it, we have a chance—admittedly today a dwindling chance—but nonetheless a chance to save ourselves. Once again, from ourselves. This visualization is simple: we are one with nature.

Beyond truth and unity, we must also reinvigorate the ethos of the America that made it the greatest nation-state in the modern era. We must embrace the geniuses, artists, and crazy entrepreneurs that turned daring enterprise into unimaginable innovation. The impossible is always possible. Often, it just requires looking at issues through a different lens. At others, it requires the imagination to combine seemingly disparate elements into something altogether new. As entrepreneurs know, in every threat lies an opportunity. Between threats and opportunities are also an array of possibilities. Yes, we have faced and continue to face daunting challenges. But we must meet them with a steady commitment to opportunism. And do so with a dash of arrogant optimism. Visualize ingenuity.

Truth, unity, and ingenuity. Cultivate them through moments, glimpses, and glimmers of reinforcing visualization. There is another maxim that applies here quite perfectly: you will travel in the direction your eyes are looking. Vision is a powerful navigation system. Once we set our eyes on a new future, our minds, hearts, and bodies will follow. Before we know it, we will be in a much better place.

One more thought before I return to my moments of comfort. The holidays are always a time of expressing gratitude. This is a good thing. A very good thing. I suggest, however, that we flip this script. In addition to expressing how grateful we are, might we also consider why we deserve gratitude. Have we earned gratitude from others? What have we done to earn it? Should our friends and family be grateful for us? Should the communities in which we live be grateful we are there? How about wildlife, the land, air and waters? If you are looking for a resolution for the new year, maybe this one is relevant: to earn the gratitude of others.

Happy New Year.

By |2023-01-15T14:31:59+00:00January 1st, 2023|General, Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

A Pagan Solstice Sermon

If wishes came true,

if thoughts and prayers

did more than pander,

I would ask for them

for me and for you.


Instead: mercy.


Forgive us Mother

for we have sinned.


We now know that

“You be you and

I’ll be me” only

produced a bounty

of wounding enmity.


We want to be good

as our mothers taught.

We want to stand tall

when judgement falls.


Grant us strength to

subdue our desires;

to span the space

that foments anger.


To consider, to reflect,

to summon empathy,

to hold the darkness,

with life in repose.


It’s in the fermata

where crescendos begin.

The pause of wisdom

where character thrives.


When mind and soul

are sealed with Nature

there is hope, courage,

and tranquility.


Where will we go,

what will we do,

whom will we hate,

once our hearts are whole?


Hand in hand,

reaching across the void,

in search of compassion,

one heart, one destiny.


Heading into the wind,

toward the light,

we stride past fear,

to save tomorrow.


To meet the sky

and be welcomed home.

To be redeemed

and know what’s right.


When there is no problem,

only peace remains.

Embracing temperance

to be good again.


Oh, to be good again.

By |2023-01-01T16:37:25+00:00December 18th, 2022|General, Recent|0 Comments

Digital Dementia

Today, you may read what follows here and be skeptical of my warning. Many of you will undoubtedly believe that none of this applies to you, although the frog enjoyed a warm bath too, until he boiled. If you were to read this five years from now, I expect you may say, duh! and oops! By then, however, it may be too late.

There has been much hand-wringing and debate over the use of digital devices by our children, but not so much about the effects of digital device addiction among adults. After all, don’t adults possess enough knowledge and discretion to make appropriate decisions about their own behaviors? New research suggests the answer is no; not because we lack knowledge and discretion, but that we have been slowly but surely sucked into our digital addiction by nefarious actors whose sole aim is to glue our eyes to their screens. We are just now realizing the extraordinary deleterious effects, and we had better get a handle on them before our next act of involuntary submission: the embrace of artificial intelligence (AI).

At the dawn of the digital age in the 1990s, the promise of all-things-digital was magnificent. Instantaneous everything: information, communication, entertainment, education, and commerce. A frictionless world. What could possibly go wrong with that? The value propositions were overwhelmingly compelling in all aspects of our lives. We even convinced ourselves that companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon were, at their core, imbued with a sense of enlightened altruism. Remember Google’s motto? “Don’t be evil.” Further, how would we ever be duped by a shiny-faced college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg who just wanted us to find long-lost friends? Bezos? He just wanted to get us cheap books, fast. Speed, which our parents warned would kill us, became our new best friend. And now we watch the brilliant but dangerous Elon Musk attempt his final ascent to the throne of Dr. Evil as King Tweet. Of course, always asserting an undying commitment to free speech as his royal robe of dignified intent. Of that, we should indeed be skeptical.

As those early years of digital optimism turned into decades, we have benefited greatly, especially in terms of economic productivity. The greatest expansion of wealth in the history of humankind occurred during the digital age. Products are made cheaply and move to doorsteps in days—sometimes hours—instead of months. New knowledge is shared instantaneously. With a few apps, we can know whatever we want, buy whatever we want, find love wherever we want, and locate our kids at any moment plus-or-minus a square foot or two, anywhere on the planet. Compared to our former analog lives, we are living in a world that previous generations could only dream about. The most fantastic science fiction of their era didn’t even come close to imagining the world we live in today.

It is painful to acknowledge that our dream is turning into a nightmare, but new research shows there is a huge cost to all this speed, convenience, and efficiency. Setting aside the environmental impacts for the moment, our cognitive impatience enabled by digital technologies is producing cognitive impairment. Our need for instant gratification has seriously degraded our capacity for calm discernment. We are like those lab rats frantically licking at the drip-dispenser of cocaine-laced water. It’s not just that many have become couch-locked slackers playing online games, many of us have become cognitively impaired to the point we have lost our agency as independent rational thinkers capable of forming and maintaining secure relationships with each other and the world in which we live. We are fast becoming demented digital zombies incapable of caring for ourselves or others unless, of course, there is an app for that.

I share what comes next with as much compassion as I can muster. It is a personal and tragic story that has taken me some time and much research to understand. I share it with great reluctance. Frankly, it is both painful and embarrassing. But the urgency I see that we face with the acceleration of AI (as it takes the same insidious path of intrusion as digital devices), instills me with a sense of moral imperative to pull the fire alarm.

It is heartbreaking to watch someone lose themselves to digital dementia. The challenge is that even while you are watching it unfold you do not know what you are watching, at least not the first time you see it. I saw someone spiral so far down the digital rabbit hole as to render their intellect unhinged and their character unrecognizable. Every waking moment their hands were otherwise unoccupied they steadied an iPhone screen close to their face. Google became their brain and Facebook their world. They thought their life had become rich and spacious when, in reality, it had become a superficial artifice of conceit and contrivance. Their independent thinking vanished and judgment collapsed as algorithms written to manipulate them sucked their life away leaving them in a constant and desperate search for their next digital fix. To be clear, this is an addiction. Real life was no longer attractive as online fantasies overwhelmed any rationally based expectations. An alternate virtual reality took over. In their mind, everyone else was the problem—they were the ones thinking clearly. They believed they were operating at a new higher level of enlightenment. Everyone around them became expendable. They were certain that the next buy-now click or swipe-right romance would make all their dreams come true.

Here is what I observed, which now, thanks to emerging research, has stages and names to help identify and perhaps interrupt the process before the victim is completely lost to their digital dreamland. See if you recognize any of this in yourself or others. If you do, stop, think, and act.

The descent into digital addiction and dementia begins with the loss of situational- and self- awareness. A human’s eyes are their natural navigation system. When they are glued to a screen, they lose much of their situational awareness. Surroundings, including other human beings, are simply no longer seen. Cartoons depicting people walking into the street unaware of the car about to hit them characterize this condition well. But it is much more dangerous than that. Self-awareness—the ability to be responsibly aware of what you are doing and the impact it has on others—declines precipitously. When one loses an entire array of social cues, which are a vital human feedback loop, they also lose the capacity for self-correction. Unbeknownst to them, they have become insensitive, rude, and even insulting to those around them. In fairness to them, they harbor no malicious intent, they simply have no clue.

The next effect is what I call isolation-by-algorithm. The software on your digital device is designed to give you what you want or, perhaps more accurately, what the software designer wants you to want to maximize their company’s profits. The intoxicant here is the satisfaction you receive by being fed things that are attractive to you and with which you agree—all based on your prior interactions with the device/app/software. Verification of this condition is as simple as having two people ask for the same information on the same app at the same time in the same place. Unless you are very similar in your demographic and personal preference profiles, you will get different answers to the exact same query. Truth becomes relative. On the surface, this seems pretty benign, perhaps even preferred. Google calls them “customized responses.” But here is the danger. Over time, the software gets to know you better and better and needs to provide you with larger doses of satisfaction—its opiate—to increase your screen time thereby increasing their profits. The result is that your online world becomes smaller and narrower. If that online world is your world, you become dangerously isolated from reality.

This isolation leads naturally to the next effect: intellectual sclerosis. A narrowing and hardening of the mind. The historical archetype of this condition is the grumpy old man. The person who quits reading, learning, and engaging in new experiences; who just wants things to be the way they used to be; who prefers regression to progression. Today, depending on the extent to which we rely on our digital devices to guide our lives, we are all susceptible to this condition—not just grumpy old men. Intellectual sclerosis narrows options and amplifies certitude. Both are extremely debilitating to better decision making and best practices. Further, our capacity for reflection, which is an integral element of contemplation, is lost. The larger problem, however, is that this condition is a one-two punch to our welfare. Not only do we make bad decisions, we believe they are great decisions. After all, as our digital devices continually refine what is now our principal feedback loop, they constantly reaffirm our desires making us believe that we are correct and, moreover, that we deserve better! Everyone else can just go pound sand.

The chain of effects continues to spiral down with a change in disposition marked by emboldened intolerance. As one’s world shrinks, tolerance for anything and anybody that differ or vary in any way with the expectations defined by this smaller world are dismissed, then often discarded. This is when the pain for others begins to really kick in. The open, compassionate, and predictable person you thought you knew so well performs an acrobatic Jekyll-to-Hyde backflip. And, because self-awareness is long-gone at this point, they feel no disorientation nor responsibility whatsoever. Rather, they may even feel a new sense of confidence and inspiration. Their cocktail-of-choice is a mix of entitlement and righteousness. Stubbornness is worn like a badge of courage. Confronting a person in this state of mind is a very perilous undertaking.

As with all addictions, avoidance behaviors and deceit by concealment comes next. Digital dementia now starts to set in; character is lost. Answers to questions become completely disconnected with the truth and with reality. They often simply depend on who is asking the question, rather than providing a truthful consistent response. Traditional values that undergird character vanish. Their life, which feels uninhibited and invigorating to them, has actually become superficial, shallow, and deeply insecure. Secure attachment to others is no longer valued or even possible. Selfishness, cowardice, and dishonesty take over. Memory loss is a coincident factor inasmuch as yesterday comes into direct conflict with today. Forgetting conveniently dissolves dissonance.

The final step in this downward spiral is a persistent set of delusions. Specifically (and oddly), a combination of delusional paranoia and delusions of grandeur. ‘Others,’ including and especially those they were once close to, are perceived as imminent threats. Advocates are now adversaries. Many previous relationships are summarily destroyed to affect a grand reimagined life that has been meticulously constructed by highly manipulative algorithms. All prior grievances are collected into a sense of victimhood that are magically vanquished by blowing everything up. Collateral damage is a certainty, but again, no awareness assures no responsibility.

Sadly, the above descent into digital dementia is more common than we might like to admit. What I witnessed was an extreme case, but also not that unusual. It is happening across all age groups and all aspects of life. Its effects are indiscriminate and pervasive. The process is insidious. We have sleep-walked our way into our current predicament. None of us are immune, although as with all addictions some are more susceptible than others depending on particular circumstances including pre-existing psychological dispositions. The only cure (as with any addiction) appears to be some level of abstinence. Life is, after all, a balancing act. As Oscar Wilde suggested, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

I remember when “You’ve Got Mail!” was a joyful moment of new human connections; when technology brought us closer together. Unfortunately, over the last twenty-five years, the opposite is now true: technology has become a lever of division and disunity by and between ourselves and nature. As I argued in “Our Huge Opportunity” (November 13, 2022), “Seeing ourselves as separate from each other and from nature is the biggest threat to humanity today.” On New Year’s Day, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that all slaves “henceforth shall be free” in his Emancipation Proclamation. He saw bondage of humans by humans as the principal threat to our nation’s unity. Today, the bondage that threatens our agency, our freedoms, and our unity is of humans by technology. However, there is no proclamation that can save us. Zuckerberg’s new metaverse is just an action video version of the Facebook trap. Each of us must assert our will to flip what has become a master-slave relationship; to, once again, require technology to serve us rather than control us.

Before AI takes over our lives—driving us further into a demented digital dreamland—we might first want to reclaim the lives we once had.


Note: If you are looking for a resource to assist you in redefining your relationship with technology, I recommend: Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World that offers a number of tips and tools to once again become masters of our lives that have been compromised by way too much digital engagement.

By |2022-12-18T14:07:17+00:00December 11th, 2022|General, Recent|0 Comments
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